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Whole System Change

In order to manage the long-term sustainability of your organization you will need to know how to initiate and drive change, so that you can build the long-term sustainability and resilience of your organization.

The most successful organizations approach change in the same manner as all successful evolutionary entities:

  • They are adaptable
  • They are continuously learning
  • They maintain a high level of internal cohesion (minimize entropy)
  • They deepen and broaden their level of external cohesion (create strategic alliances)
  • They manage complexity by taking a whole system approach to change. They understand the interdependent nature of all parts of the organization’s internal and external environment

Whole system change can be best understood by referring to the following diagram. The four quadrants in this figure represent the four perspectives that one can have of a human system such as an organization, a community or a nation.

The internal perspective represents the motivational drivers of the individual and the collective. The external perspective represents the actions and behaviours of the individual and the collective. (Click on diagram to enlarge)

 Motivational Drivers of the Individual and Collective

The four perspectives are:

  • The perspective as viewed from inside an individual—personal values and beliefs (top left quadrant)
  • The perspective as viewed from outside of an individual—personal actions and behaviours (top right quadrant)
  • The perspective as viewed from inside of a collective—cultural values and beliefs (the bottom left)
  • The perspective as viewed from outside of a collective—social structures, systems, processes, actions and behaviours (bottom right quadrant).

The four quadrants are linked in the following way. When individuals change their values and beliefs (top left quadrant), their behaviours change (top right). When sufficient numbers of people change their values, beliefs and behaviours, then a shift in the collective values and beliefs occurs (bottom left). This results in a change in the behaviours of the whole group (bottom right).

In an organisational setting, the values, beliefs (top left quadrant), and behaviours (top right quadrant) of the leader and the leadership group significantly influence the values and beliefs of the collective (bottom left quadrant) and the behaviours of the collective (bottom right quadrant). In other words, the leaders’ values, beliefs and behaviours significantly influence the culture of the organisation.

To be even more precise, the culture of an organisation is a reflection of the values and beliefs of the present leaders and the instutionalised legacy of the values and beliefs of past leaders as reflected in the structures, systems, processes, policies and procedures of the organisation. Four conditions must be met for whole system change to occur in a human system. (Click on diagram to enlarge)

 The four conditions for whole system change in a human system

These are:

Personal alignment: There must be an alignment between the values and beliefs of individuals, and their words, actions and behaviours. This is particularly important for the leadership group. It is important that leaders are authentic and walk their talk.

Structural alignment: There must be an alignment between the stated values of the organisation, and the behaviours of the organisation as they are reflected in the structures, systems, processes, policies, incentives and procedures of the organisation. It is important that the values and the concomitant behaviours are  institutionalised.

Values alignment: There must be an alignment between the personal values of employees and the stated values of the organisation. It is important that all employees feel at home in the organisation and can bring their whole selves to work.

Mission alignment: There must be an alignment between sense of motivation and purpose of all employees, managers and leaders, and the mission and vision of the organisation. Every employee, manager and leader needs to spend a good proportion of their time utilizing their talents and doing what they do best.

Every culture change or transformation initiative must aim at satisfying all four of these conditions if it is to be successful: it will fail if the whole system doesn’t change. 

 

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